A June 2005 file photo of the Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Conneaut, Ohio, which the state sold to Corrections Corporation of America last year.

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is the nation’s largest operator of for-profit prisons; it is a “Wall Street giant” that has grown more than five-fold during the last fifteen years. After 9/11, it capitalized on anxieties about national security and anti-immigrant sentiment to  contract with the government to build private detention facilities; by 2009, almost half of all immigrants detained by the government were in facilities managed by private contractors (read more here). Between 2001 and 2005, CCA’s increased its lobbying expenditures more than sevenfold, from $470,000 to nearly $3.4 million. The Huffington Post observes that “[i]n recent years, Corrections Corporation of America has made it clear that it sees opportunity in the new era of state budget crises.”

CCA recently sent this letter to 48 states, offering to buy their prisons. Like “cash for keys” offers to foreclosure victims, the long-term costs of this exchange for states will be far greater than the cash states could take away in hand now. If the reasons that harnessing the private profit goal to and giving up public management of the prison system will be costly aren’t obvious, consider that to keep generating profits from the prison system, it will have to continue to grow, which means that the nation’s prison population will have to continue to rise, while incentives to invest in conditions that could decrease recidivism– shorter sentences, less crowded conditions, educational opportunities, reentry programs, even adequate food, healthcare and staffing, just to name a few– disappear. This would not only mean an exacerbation of the worst tendencies we have described in prior posts, but also, given the increasing power of CCA’s lobbying arm, a diminished likelihood of legislative prison reform.

Read more about this utterly depressing and horrifying prospect here.